Often considered only necessary for dressage horses, lateral work boasts many benefits for your horse’s suppleness, balance, rideability, and more. But, as eventer Oliver Townend and showjumper Geoff Billington explained to the crowds at the SEIB Arena at Your Horse Live, it’s also vital in the showjumping ring.

“When you’re going round a course, you’ve got to have plenty of tools in your toolbox,” said Geoff. “If you’ve going on a dogleg, and the fence is 1.50m, you don’t want to turn the petrol down. But if you can move sideways for a stride, then go straight again, that means you can keep your rhythm, keep your impulsion and keep your tempo.”

To achieve this, though, your horse needs to have a basic understanding of some of the basics of lateral work: shoulder-in and leg yield.

“What I’m doing is going in a straight line, pushing his body to the left, then going straight. Pushing his body to the right, then going straight,” shared Geoff as he piloted Just Special around the outside track of the arena in trot in shoulder-in. He looked over to Oliver. “Olly, when you’re working your horse, what do you do? You’re not just going around in circles.”

Oliver, riding breeding stallion Comfort, explained that even without years of training, top horses often take to these manoeuvres easily because it’s what they are bred to do.

“Comfort was trained as a showjumper originally as a young horse before he came over,” said Oliver, of the stallion who originated from Germany. “He doesn’t know all the moves that a dressage horse knows, but you ask him to do shoulder-in, and he does shoulder-in. You ask him to do a bit of half-pass, he does it. He doesn’t know how to do it so he might have a wobble or a little bit of loss of balance, but he’s a natural athlete, so everything comes easily.”

Oliver came along the three-quarter line and asked Comfort to return to the track with a half-pass, talking the audience through it as the horse moved over.

“I find the diagonal, put his head, neck and shoulder on it, and ask his backside to come across,” explained Oliver. “It’s not a half-pass that Charlotte [Dujardin] would be proud of, but I’m just showing you that it comes easy to him.”

Meet the experts: Eventer Oliver Townend is a former FEI world number one ranked rider. He has won Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky – the latter two on multiple occasions – as well as medalling at European Championships and the Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Showjumper Geoff Billington has ridden in over 50 Nations Cups for Great Britain, as well as representing his country in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics in 1996 and 2000. He won team bronze in the 1997 European Championships and individual and team bronze at the 1998 World Championships. 

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